title: Tao Te Ching 15 - The ancient masters

Book - Tao Te Ching - Lao Tzu

Stephen Mitchell Translation

The ancient Masters were profound and subtle. Their wisdom was unfathomable. There is no way to describe it1; all we can describe is their appearance.

They were careful as someone crossing an iced-over stream. Alert as a warrior in enemy territory2. Courteous as a guest. Fluid as melting ice. Shapable as a block of wood. Receptive as a valley. Clear as a glass of water.

Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?3

The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment. Not seeking, not expecting,4 she is present, and can welcome all things.

1: Truth is never expressed in words 2: Mindfulness 3: Wu Wei 4: happiness is the absence of desire

Other translations I like

The ancients who followed Tao: Dark, wondrous, profound, penetrating. Deep beyond knowing. Because they cannot be known, They can only be described.

Cautious, like crossing a winter stream. Hesitant, like respecting one’s neighbours. Polite, like a guest. Yielding, Like ice about to melt; Blank, like uncarved wood. Open, like a valley. Mixing freely, like muddy water.

Calm the muddy water, It becomes clear. Move the inert, It comes to life.?

Those who sustain Tao Do not wish to be full. Because they do not wish to be full They can fade away Without further effort.